November 23, 2020 I Am Lisa (Movie Review)
She is not a monster, she is simply a young woman who has been wronged. Kristen Vaganos stars in the female-driven revenge flick I Am Lisa, which initially premiered at FrightFest in August 2020 before receiving a limited digital release in October via the Laemmle in Los Angeles. For the rest of us, I Am Lisa is headed to VOD and DVD this winter thanks to Feed The Queen and Central Time Zone Films.
Directed by Patrick Rea (Nailbiter 2013, Arbor Demon 2016) and written by Eric Winkler (Inhumane short 2018), I Am Lisa revolves around the titular twentysomething (Vaganos: Mommy Would Never Hurt You TV movie 2019, Dating After College mini-series), who has returned to her insular hometown after inheriting a used bookstore from her grandmother. A quiet young woman who works hard and enjoys spending time with her best friend, Samantha (Jennifer Seward: Safe States short 2019, Black Zone series), Lisa is not exactly looking to ruffle feathers within her community.
Of course no smalltown is without its bullies. Leading the pack is Jessica (Carmen Anello: Exposure 2018, Zombie Beauty Pageant: Drop Dead Gorgeous 2018) who, along with her toadies Dana (Sarah McGuire: The Matchbreaker 2016, Happy Birthday short 2017) and Millie (Millie Milan: Bonehill Road 2017, The Stylist 2020), is hellbent on making life miserable for poor Lisa. And it certainly doesn’t help matters that the town’s sheriff, Deb Huckins (Manon Halliburton: The Sopranos series, Law & Order series), is as backwards as they come, and her deputy-slash-son Nick (Chris Bylsma: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie 2019, The Kid 2019) is equally vile. Oh, and did we mention that Jessica is the sheriff’s daughter?
After a run-in with Jessica leads Lisa to harness her courage and attempt to report the incident, she finds herself bloodied then tossed into the woods—literally left to the wolves. When she wakes up the next day at the cottage of the kindly Mary (Cinnamon Schultz: Winter’s Bone 2010, Goodland 2017), she discovers that all of her injuries have already healed. As she begins to undergo a series of changes, Lisa becomes increasingly interested in what happened that night and how it connects to the strange man (Shawn Eric Jones: Allegiant 2016, First Man 2018) lurking in the woods?
I Am Lisa is an interesting film, in that, if you take away its werewolf lore, you would have a fairly straightforward Drama that’s focused on the issues of bullying, harassment, small town justice, and revenge. Instead, with the addition of fur, you have an understated Horror-Thriller. So while the film does sport the requisite blood and violence, by Horror standards, it’s pretty softcore. Pushed to its utmost limits, this story might have been somewhat of a cross between 1978/2010’s I Spit On Your Grave and 1996’s The Craft, but lacking the tragic and violent urgency of the former and the effortless ‘cool’ of the latter, Teen flick.
Which is to say that the screenplay is not without flaws. Thankfully the injection of ironic literary humor, as well as some perfectly timed black humor, keeps the audience engaged even when it stumbles. Admittedly, these foibles are often due to budget constraints or poor decisions brought on by said limitations. Overdone sound effects, underdone special fx makeup, and some janky choreography are some of the most obvious problems throughout, but none of these flaws ever manages to make the film feel cheesy or intentionally ridiculous. Instead, the most impactful snafus tend to come from the actors themselves.
Certain scenes have an elongated pause before the dialogue begins, particularly when it comes to Seward. Though her acting is largely solid, her reactions to some of the story’s supernatural material are far too understated and her chemistry with her so-called best friend tends to feel a bit forced. None of this ruins the film, but viewers will definitely question why Sam is so calm and immediately accepting of Lisa’s bloody confessions.
In the titular role, Vaganos gives a good performance. Initially a soft-spoken vegetarian, she shows great courage in confronting her bully when she already knows that there will be no resolution. Though as her situation changes dramatically, Lisa opts to ‘make lemonade’ and use her newfound strength to her advantage. But Vaganos is careful not to revel in her character’s revenge, avoiding the intense violence of films such as 2017’s Revenge, instead focusing on the emotional desperation that led her to her breaking point.
Halliburton’s Sheriff Huckins, who is a repulsive doppelganger to Marcia Gay Harden’s FBI Agent Dana Lewis on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, is the world’s most unprofessional sheriff. A redneck officer who refuses to take assault complaints and instead threatens those reporting crimes, her character is the epitome of repulsive, self-serving small town law enforcement. It’s horrifying to hear a sheriff deliver the quip “You’re just a bitch that needs to be taught a very severe lesson,” but Halliburton offers up enough venom to make the skin crawl in the most delicious way.
I Am Lisa carefully pairs all of this with some John Carpenter-esque sounds from Natalia Perez (American Horror Story series, Mr. Robot series), and music from the likes of Pallbearer, Chout, Dreameater, The Architects, Beezlefeast, and Coalesce, as well as an apropos cover of Type O Negative’s “Wolf Moon.” at 91 minutes, while there are some issues within the film, it still manages to hold the viewer’s attention and provide an enjoyable experience. So if you love it when the furs flies and the baddies die, add I Am Lisa to your watch list! For the above, Cryptic Rock gives I Am Lisa 3.5 of 5 stars. Oh, and we spotted that strategically placed Arbor Demon poster!